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Tornado victims: A moment of silence for the six lost Amazon workers

We take a moment to remember the six workers who died during a devastating tornado on Friday night.
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Written by David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer on

It's heartbreaking to learn of the devastation and loss of life caused by the tornados that last Friday ripped across six states --  including an Illinois Amazon facility.

These are the details, as much as we know them: On Friday night, 22 reported tornadoes traveled across Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. At least three EF-3 tornados hit populated areas with wind speeds between 136 and 165mph.

To cause the damage it did to the Amazon DLI4 facility located in Edwardsville, IL, the twister had to be at least an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. That's wind enough to take roofs off two-story homes, flatten warehouses, and even lift up and throw heavy machinery.

At approximately 8:35pm Edwardsville time, the National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-3 approaching from the west touched down at 3077 Gateway Commerce Center Drive East. Upon responding, the Edwardsville Fire Department found that approximately 150 yards of the building "had been collapsed," according to Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford.

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Via Google Street View: Amazon building prior to the tornado.

The 3077 Gateway Commerce Center building is a 1.1 million square foot delivery station, opened about a year and a half ago. As of Whiteford's briefing, 45 workers who were in the building at the time of the impact made it out of the building safely. One person had to be airlifted to a regional hospital for treatment. There were also six fatalities. Search operations are ongoing, which means there are still workers unaccounted for (and presumed dead).

Chicago's ABC News reported on a statement by Kelly A. Nantel, Director of National Media Relations at Amazon:

We're deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the storm. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We're continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.

Jeff Bezos apparently took some time to respond to the disaster, posting about Blue Origin (his rocket company) before acknowledging the loss of life in Edwardsville. He did post an appropriate response soon after:

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There was a tornado warning, and workers did shelter in a more fortified area. Unfortunately, according to the New York Times, that area was directly hit by the tornado and did not survive the impact. More details of the situation will become apparent in the coming months.

I want to take a moment to think of and thank the workers in all the Amazon warehouses. I have written a number of articles about the technical aspects of a global supply chain. As an engineer, I often think of a supply chain as an enormous machine -- and that mechanism fascinates me.

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Overhead view of Amazon facility, via Google Maps.

But all those links in the chain are made up of people, real people with families and friends and lives and loves. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, my family has come to rely on those unsung workers for nearly everything. Between Instacart and Amazon and all the supermarket, warehouse, and delivery workers, my family has been kept safe, isolated from a pandemic during which both my wife and I are considered high risk.

These workers have quite literally kept us alive.

And yet, we don't even know the names of all the people who lost their lives in Edwardsville. From all accounts, working in an Amazon warehouse is incredibly hard work, and the people doing it are not all that high on the "it-must-be-nice" scale of affluence and societal position.

But they have been so important to so many of us, and their work has meant so very much. It's heartbreaking to learn of the devastation at the 3077 Gateway Commerce Center.

I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence for those lost workers and all the workers who put themselves in harm's way, just so Amazon customers can have life a little easier and a little safer.

Our thoughts and well wishes also go out to all the other tornado victims across the country from this devastating weekend.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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